Gift that makes room for the artist

Parkside portrait artist Wonga Maxiniva’s superior drawing skills at school meant he was always the schoolboy chosen to reproduce diagrams from biology and geography books on the blackboard.

A fine art diploma from Walter Sisulu University later, Maxiniva, 35, has carved a niche as the portrait artist of choice, with his latest commission being of East London executive mayor Xola Pakati.

Parkside portrait artist Wonga Maxiniva works off photographs to achieve a realistic likeness of his subjects, such as EL executive mayor Xola Pakati, left. Maxiniva has hung a painting of Nelson Mandela and an old Ndebele woman at the EL Fine Art Society exhibition. Picture: MARK ANDREWS

Maxiniva is one of 45 artists who are exhibiting their works at the East London Fine Art Society annual exhibition, which opened at the Ann Bryant Art Gallery on Thursday evening.

Other exhibitors include Wandile Ntlanganiso, Daniel Mooy, Abongile Ngubelanga, Bernard Barry, Awonge Mazwi, Nicole Jayne McComb, Kilane Mlawande, Glenda Gendall and Dr Amitabh Mitra.

Maxiniva, who has converted his garage into a studio, said he was excited and honoured to include his works in the exhibition, which will be up during the festive summer season.

“I didn’t really care about exhibiting my work before because I was doing my own thing, but it has led to my meeting people and getting recognition for my work,” said Maxiniva, who is working on an eightmember family portrait.

“Each member of the family gave me a separate photograph of themselves and I am combining it into one portrait,” he said.

While he has worked mainly in oil, his preferred medium has evolved into a combination of acrylic, pastel and oil on canvas.

Working off photographs, he captures the personality of his subjects by using colour and different brush strokes giving the saying ‘different strokes for different folks’ a literal meaning.

“People give me cellphone selfies, ID photos, anything they have and I do about two portraits a month.

“I charge depending on size. The biggest one I’ve done was a 2m by 1m portrait for a 21st birthday.”

Maxiniva, who taught art at AW Barnes Primary until two years ago, now makes a living painting portraits. He said 60% of his commissions come from couples who want a favourite wedding photograph transformed into a work of art.

He has also completed a commission for the department of sport, arts and culture of late sport minister Steve Tshwete and is putting the finishing touches to a portrait of mayor Xola Pakati for the City Hall. For the exhibition, Maxiniva has hung a painting of an old Ndebele woman and a portrait of Nelson Mandela.

“Everyone paints Madiba and so I avoided it for a long time until I found an unusual photograph of him looking over his shoulder. I enjoyed doing it.

“I am a Virgo, so I’m a perfectionist. As soon as someone recognises the subject of my portrait, I am happy.”

The East London Fine Art Society exhibition is up at the Ann Bryant Art Gallery until December 23. —